Melatonin and Ashwagandha Could Help you Sleep Better, Along With Some Vitamins

Dietary supplements may help you sleep, but choose carefully if you decide to go this route.

By Avery Hurt; Medically Reviewed by Dr. Ahmad Talha Azam
Mar 11, 2024 2:00 PMMar 19, 2024 1:01 PM
woman-sleeping-with-sleeping-supplements-nearby
(Credit: Stock-Asso/Shutterstock)

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A good night’s sleep is becoming a rare treasure. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about one in three adults in the United States doesn’t get enough sleep, and an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders.

Many people struggling to get enough sleep turn to nutritional supplements for help. Common sleep supplements are melatonin, valerian, and the currently trending ashwagandha, a plant used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient Indian system of healthcare.

While these and other supplements might help you get more sleep, there are a few things you need to know before trying them. 

Ashwagandha and Sleep

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), a part of the National Institutes of Health, some studies have shown that ashwagandha can reduce anxiety and stress, which might account for the small benefit it has shown as a sleep aid. 

In the short term, the supplement appears to be safe, causing only mild side effects, such as upset stomach, loose stools, nausea, and feeling drowsy (the last of which is kind of the point). So far, no studies have looked at the safety of ashwagandha after three months of use.


Read More: Women May Need More Sleep Than Men, but Research Is Unsure Why


Is Valerian Safe and Effective for Sleep?

Valerian is another sleep treatment with a long history. It was used in ancient Greece and Rome not just for sleep but also for migraines, fatigue, and stomach cramps.

However, there is little solid evidence of valerian’s effectiveness, and though it appears to be safe for short-term use, the safety of long-term use of valerian is unknown. It’s also not known if it’s safe to use valerian during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

For these reasons, in its 2017 practice guidelines, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommended against using valerian for insomnia. 


Read More: The Side Effects of Sleeping Pills and How They Affect Our Sleep Cycle


Melatonin Supplements

Melatonin is a hormone produced at night by your brain, explains Catherine McCall, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington in Seattle and director of Provider Clinics at the Veterans Administration, Puget Sound.

Normally, the brain starts producing melatonin when the light begins to fade at the end of the day. That’s why melatonin is sometimes called “the hormone of darkness,” says McCall.

Of course, in the modern world, darkness is hard to come by (at least in the literal sense), and light at night can interfere with melatonin production (enter melatonin supplements).

People often gravitate toward melatonin supplements because they seem natural and, hence, safe. And indeed, melatonin can be relatively safe, says McCall. Sleep physicians sometimes use it to change or reset a person’s sleep timing. It can also be helpful for jet lag. Melatonin is probably the most studied sleep supplement on the market, but it hasn’t been shown to be very effective for chronic insomnia.  


Read More: Do Melatonin Diffusers Help You Sleep Better


Vitamins and Dietary Sleep Supplements

In some cases, vitamins might help you sleep better. According to the Sleep Foundation, a deficiency of vitamins C, D, or B vitamins can disrupt sleep patterns. Vitamins E, A, and K also play a role in sleep. However, lacking these nutrients creates problems only when you’re not getting enough. Taking more than the recommended amount won’t help.  

While dietary supplements may seem natural and safe, some could have unintended consequences. In the long term, some could change your brain structure, explains McCall. For example, valerian may increase the amount or function of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter associated with sleep. 

“The long-term use of valerian hasn't been well-studied, but some medications that increase GABA are associated with rebound insomnia when the medication is stopped, and a supplement could also conceivably do this,” says McCall.


Read More: Strange Side Effects From Supplements and What You Need to Know 


What's the Best Supplement for Sleep?

Before deciding how to treat your sleep problem, it’s important to identify the cause of your sleeplessness. McCall encourages anyone who is having trouble sleeping to talk to their doctor about whether they need an evaluation for a sleep disorder. Finding out what’s causing your sleeplessness can help you get the most appropriate treatment.

If you decide to try supplements on your own, it’s a good idea to do some research first. Good places to start are the ODS and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

Before buying a supplement, take a good look at the label, says McCall. Look for a symbol on the bottle indicating the supplement has been tested by a third party, such as NSF, Consumer Lab, or the US Pharmacopeia (USP) Dietary Supplement Verification Program. And don’t just glance. McCall says some manufacturers try to trick you with other symbols. Make sure the symbol is really from a trusted third party.


Read More: Noise Colors: Which One Is Best for Sleep?


This article is not offering medical advice and should be used for informational purposes only.

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